Thermal Duration contest strategies - RC Groups
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Aug 18, 2004, 09:01 AM
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Thermal Duration contest strategies

This thread is for experienced contest pilots to give advice on how to fly and how to practice for Thermal Duration (TD) contests. Less experienced contest pilots are encouraged to ask questions.

Who am I? No one special, but I have competed in contests for 8 years, and have earned many trophies. I've learned from some of the best competitors in the Southeast US, and beyond. I have completed almost all of the tasks for LSF level 5. I take contests seriously and actually practice for them. I orient much of my weekend flying towards that goal. There are many others who's contest experience and skills vastly outshine my own. I hope to draw some of them out of the closet, so we may all learn something from each other.

Let's not turn this thread into a contest bashing thread. I also do not intend to argue what contest format is better than what other format. If you want to do that, start your own thread. I hope to use this discussion solely for educating others, who honestly desire to learn how to do better at thermal duration contests.

I plan to write several articles, but would like to start trying to answer one question. What is a contest?

First, a TD contest is simply a set of tasks that you as a pilot must perform. These tasks were designed to be measured objectively by a stopwatch and a measuring tape. Almost always, you are assigned to fly a specific time each flight and land the plane according to some landing task. Usually, you score the highest if you fly exactly the time specified and land your plane as close as possible to some markings on the ground. The times and landing tasks vary, of course. You get measured against the other pilots that fly on that day, so absolute perfection is not required. Like golf, you only have to do better than everyone else, to win.

Second, and important to me, a TD contest is a chance to socialize, meet new soaring folks, and see friends from neighboring states you only get to see a few times each year. Socializing is about 1/2 the reason I attend contests. If you go to a contest, fly, sit in your chair, and don't at least say hello to others, you're missing out on half of the fun. IMHO, of course.

My next topic will attempt to answer this question. How can I fly at my own field, and help me prepare for a contest?
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Aug 18, 2004, 09:07 AM
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Web Resources

This space is reserved for web links useful to those who want to improve their skills. I will add links to this post as topics get discussed:

I will start with this set of well written articles, oriented to the aspiring contest pilot.

Jim Burch wrote an excellent article demonstrating the advantages of using ballast:
Why use ballast?

I came across a useful article about Thermal Hunting, by Mark Howard.
Last edited by nuevo; Jun 16, 2007 at 10:29 PM. Reason: fix a bad link
Aug 18, 2004, 09:43 AM
aka: Dances with Buzzards
One of the most frequent mistakes made in contest flying is launching without a plan.... approaching the flight as a fun fly. If you are not scanning the sky on your way to the winch - looking for other planes, birds, wind shifts, etc. - you have significantly reduced your chances of completing a task successfully. If you launch and then ask your timer where to go you havn't properly prepared yourself and are now relying on luck.

Granted, the new flyer is going to be more concerned about a safe launch with the wings still intact or may simply not know enough about thermal hunting to have formed a plan on his/her own but they owe it to themselves to at least know where they should head upon release. A little conference with your timer should get you headed in a direction and makes you more decisive. If the plan isn't right so be it but lumbering around the sky with no thought about where to search is an early and easily corrected mistake.

I bring this up because after 12 years of competition flying I blew a contest round last month by doing what I just wrote about...... not having a plan. Guess we need those reminders every now and then.
Aug 18, 2004, 04:00 PM
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How can I fly at my own field, and help me prepare for a contest?

Here is the big picture. You know you will be asked to fly a certain time, and land on some spot. It’s a good bet that the time will be more than 2 minutes. Where I compete, the time is almost always 8-10 minutes per round.

A local contest usually consists of 4-6 rounds per day. Each round is one flight followed by one mandatory landing. Scoring varies by contest, but the basics are:
  • fly exactly the time specified to maximize your score
  • land so that the nose of your plane is as close as possible to the landing target to maximize your score.
In a nutshell, that’s it. The rest are just details.

I’d like to echo a piece of advice I got many years ago from Don Vickers. He said:
If you want to do well at contests, then you fly every single flight as if you were in a contest. Try to make 10 minutes on every flight. If you’re low at 2 minutes, don’t give up and land. Find a way to make those 10 minutes. Try. Also, land every flight on a target, and use a stopwatch to land every flight on a clock.

Let’s take these steps in order.

Time every flight

You don’t have to write the results down. Just know what time you flew. Some days you’ll do great, some days not so great. How consistent are you at making your times? Weather has a great deal to do with this. Set goals for yourself that take some work to achieve. A good starting point is 5-6 minutes for every flight.

Obviously, being able to locate and fly in lift is required. I’m not going to cover all the ways to read the air. One good resource I know of is Dave Thornburg’s “Old Buzzard's Soaring Book”, if you can find it. [ Personal peeve: I recommend not purchasing from Soaring Stuff.]

As ICTHRMLS said, before you launch, take a look around. This is not elementary school. It’s ok to copy from others. Are there other planes in the air going up (that you can reach from a launch)? Hmmm. Maybe everyone on the left side of the field is in sink. That should tell you something too. All of this presumes you are looking at the sky for at 30-60 seconds before you need to launch.

Try landing on a spot every flight

Some guys at my club bring a carpet scrap to the field on weekends and throw it on the ground. It is a light color with a bright red spot painted in the middle of it. We use that for landings. If you’re in a pinch, throw your hat on the ground and try to land near it. If you want to truly measure yourself, make a landing tape. I have one made from 3” wide “lawn chair” tape available at the garden department at Wal-Mart. (Hint: this stuff is seasonal). Use a sharpie and make a mark every foot. My good friend Brian Smith made one for me. He glued the high-point end to a 3x3 piece of plywood and drilled a hole in it. I take it to the field and nail it into the ground. If you’re new to spot landings, make a 25’ tape. If you’re very experienced, make a 5’ tape.

The Thornburg book has some good comments on landing practice. Also a few excellent Torrey Pines articles are below. Focus on the landing portion of the articles, for now.

The Art of Landing

Improving Your Contest Performance

At contests, realize that there may be a lot of people launching, flying, and landing at the same time. Contest organizers realize this can be a potential safety hazard. One important part of your landing practice is to be sure you do not overshoot your landing spot by very much. Some contests have a safety line drawn on the ground, several feet beyond the landing zone. If your plane lands beyond this line, you can earn a zero for the entire flight. Safety of other pilots is the reason, so you might as well expect it.

Land to a clock

If you can’t land on that tape, then don’t bother with this step yet. You should be able to land within a 25’ radius about 1/3 the time.

After you are reasonably able to make the landing zone (even once in a while), go buy yourself a tape recorder, digital pen recorder, or a Talking Timer. The Talking Timer is available all over the web for about $20.

Google search for “Talking Timer”

I use one, and clip it to my shirt, so I can hear it. Other friends clip one to their transmitter. What I like to do is set the clock for 2 minutes, and then turn on the clock when I get low. At first, just turn the clock on, and make your landing approach. Use it over and over. I suggest you develop a consistent landing pattern, before using the clock. Even when I was first learning to land for contests, if I used my own pre-determined pattern, I was always +/- 4 seconds from the target time. The Thornburg book talks about setting up a landing pattern. If you want more details, PM me.

Set reasonable goals for yourself

Don’t expect too much out of yourself when practicing, and at contests. If you been to few or no contests, don’t expect to finish better than the bottom 1/3. Yes, I said the bottom 1/3rd. On my first contest, the only goal I set for myself was to not finish last. I barely achieved that goal by outscoring a 9 year old boy.

Reasonable goals for a beginner are:
  • get any landing points at all on 2 out of 5 landings.
  • Earn close to the max flight score on 2 of 5 flights. Flying within 30 seconds of the specified flight time is fine.
Here’s an article on the subject. Sage Advice - Setting Goals


Parting thought: “Never try something new at a contest.” I see a lot of planes break on launch this way.
Last edited by nuevo; Jun 19, 2008 at 12:44 PM. Reason: fixed links to TPG articles
Aug 18, 2004, 10:14 PM
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pocket rocket's Avatar
fly as well as you might, unless you've 'trained' your timer you can be screwed.

a few suggestions :-

don't let your timer try out a new stop watch on your contest flight

check he/she knows the correct goal time and has set the correct goal time, if this is applicable, to the watch

check with timer that the watch is indeed running after launch

let the timer know how you want the countdown to proceed before attempting the landing and not afterwards

and of course it's easy - launch, fly into lift, stay there for a few minutes, land on the spot !!!!!!!!!!

Aug 18, 2004, 10:40 PM
aka: Dances with Buzzards

Definite Pet Peeve Of Mine.... DO NOT....

Originally Posted by JonStone
Parting thought: “Never try something new at a contest.” I see a lot of planes break on launch this way.
..... Reprogram your radio on the flight line prior to launch. Hey guys... I know you have all seen "us" (those) gurus making last minute adjustments to trims and so forthon the flight line but PLEASE do not make wholesale changes prior to a contest launch unless you truly feel it is a test flight. Very unpredictable things can happen with a hurried program change when the pressure to launch is the greatest. If the contest allows (open flight window per say) stand down and do a thorough check of everything (WHILE YOU HAVE THE FREQUENCY PIN). If a servo is acting up or things aren't right just stop and evaluate whether or not you want to fly and risk tearing up equipment or personal property.

A lot of contest basix are covered in this thread but there are certain "nuances" that can make or "break" your day. Hope this helps.
Aug 19, 2004, 12:05 AM
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What to expect at your first contest

What to expect at your first contest.

Continuing from my last post’s closing comment. “Never try something new at a contest.” I see a lot of planes break on launch this way.

I know, for those fairly new to contests, nerves and expectations are something big to deal with. Well, there’s just no way around it. I still get nervous at contests; especially during the first round. After I’ve got one flight done, I get a little more relaxed.

Mental Expectations

First of all, get your expectations in line right now. Face it. Unless you’ve been secretly been practicing contest tasks for years in a private field somewhere, where no one can watch, you are not going to win a trophy. There I said it. You are not going to earn a trophy your first time out. If you face that one little fact, you’ve taken a tremendous amount of pressure off of yourself. No sense worrying about it.

Second, when you show up to a contest, you will see a lot of people you do not know. Most of them will know each other, because they’ve been at it several years. (1) Don’t be intimidated. Go introduce yourself to a few folks. Even if you see someone whose name you recognize. Go say hello. No, you won’t make lifelong friends the first day. But since you read these kinds of articles in cyberspace, you’ve probably seen a lot of names. Now’s a great time to meet these people and see what they’re like. (2) Guess what. These people don’t know you either. That means they will not all stop what they are doing when you launch, to see how you do. So don’t be too self conscious about your flying. If you do well or not so well, it’s no big deal. My point of this whole paragraph is: relax. We’re all doing this for fun. Yes, some folks take this stuff very seriously. You’ll figure out who these guys are soon enough.

What’s happening here:

When you drive up to a contest field, you will see lots of cars parked in a line or two, and some tents being set up. All the pilots will be catching up with each other, and putting their planes together. You’ll also notice the local club members setting up several winches on the field.

What you should probably do first is find the contest director and register for the contest and pay your entry fees. In case you have not figured this out, almost all TD contests in the USA require AMA membership. You must show your AMA card during registration, so expect it.

If you’re alone, you need to meet people and meet them now. Why? Every pilot needs a timer. A timer is a person who runs a stopwatch on your flight. He also gives you advice on where to fly, where other planes are climbing in lift, where others are sinking. He also reminds you every so often what your time remaining is. If you want it, a skilled timer can also critique your flying. A good timer is hard to find. As a beginner or intermediate pilot, you want the best pilot you can find to be your timer. Note. You do not need to have the same person time for you the whole day. I’ll get more into timer’s duties in another post.

Soon after you get there, someone will yell out that a pilot’s meeting will start soon. Get your brain in gear, and gather around. If this is your first contest, you might want a notepad. You’ll hear a lot of things that might be new to you. Things the contest director (CD) will go over include:
  • Flight tasks for the day.
  • Landing tasks, and location of the landing zones
  • Field boundaries. If you land off-field, you get a zero for the flight. Generally, if you land off field, you have to go search for your plane in a forest somewhere, so this is not a big issue.
  • How the flights and landings will be scored.
  • Any special notes about the field. Like no flying at all over the apartment building on that side of the field.
  • Frequency conflicts. Pay careful attention here to see if anyone else is on your channel. If so, find out who that person is, and make sure he knows who you are. You two (or more) will be sharing the channel for the day.

    A safety note here. I realize some of you fly alone and not in clubs. At a contest, or a club field you never turn on your transmitter without having a clip called a “frequency pin” attached to your transmitter. This pin is a sign that you “own that frequency”. Great care is required here. The general rule is, if you cause someone else’s plane to crash, you just bought him a new one.

  • How long each round will be.
  • When the first flight start.
  • What the flight group assignments (if any) are.
  • Pop off’s. This is when you get a “sub-optimal launch” by your plane coming off of the winch line too early. Some CD’s allow a relaunch after a pop-off, some don’t. Some allow a limited number of relaunch attemps for beginners, and some don’t.
  • And a lot of other useless stuff, like wether everyone is supposed to round or truncate the times to the nearest second. Someone will always ask.

These are the basic rules for the day. In a few minutes, it will be time for the first round. If you don’t have someone to time for you by now, ask the CD after the pilot’s meeting to help you find one. Be polite. It is not the CD’s job to find you a timer.

Finding a timer might be harder than you think. Most of the expert pilots already have their favorite people, and they time for each other. Can you blame them. They know exactly what to expect of each other, and know each other’s abilities, flying styles, and limitations. Just be aware of that, and not too upset when your favorite pilot says no to you. Think about it this way. If a pilot agrees to time for you (and he already has a timer/partner), he is doing that other person a disservice. Don’t expect to much, and when you get to be the hot shot, don’t forget those growing in the sport too.

Since you don’t know many or any folks, and you are a beginner; frankly, anyone friendly will do. A timer does not even have to know how to fly planes, although it helps.

I could say more, but someone else already has. Fred Sage wrote a 3-part article titled When to Launch. I wish I wrote it. It is a long read, but well worth it. Read it at least twice.

The article covers many things. Among them choosing a timer, timer’s duties, etc. I’ll try to summarize some of that material and add my own observations in my next installment.
Last edited by nuevo; Jun 19, 2008 at 12:46 PM. Reason: fixed links to TPG articles
Aug 19, 2004, 02:27 AM
Registered User
Jon has started a greaat thread. This could evolve into a book or another Evo thread. For now, I have a couple of suggestions.

1. Be prepared to fly. It's too late to learn how to fly, trim your model, or program your transmitter. Fly what you have, observe, and digest what you learn. Then go home and practice what you learned before the next contest.

2. Relax! It's just a hobby. If I can't go to a contest, come in last, and still have fun, then its time to find a new hobby. He who says second place is the first loser has lost a great hobby and found an obsession. Of course the higher I place, the more fun I have.

Chuck Anderson
Aug 19, 2004, 10:17 AM

Super Thread

Wow..Wonderful thread...I read and re-read the posts and I have very little to add...One thing you might consider is if your going to be come a "real contester" instead of a once or twice a year contest flyer is: get the best/latest/model you can afford...And stick with it...Too many folks trying to buy success and it "AIN"T" going to happen by just spending tons of money on the latest ship every time one comes along....Make sure your C/G is right...Make sure your tow hook is optimized for a good, but safe launch..Pop offs at a contest do nothing to calm your nerves... Be sure all is well and working right before you arrive at the event, as rushing around trying to re-trim or fix things will only distract the concentration you need for great soaring flights and 100 point landings that you have been practicing for..
Remember to have fun...Remember to have fun..I like others, used to go to win -about 70% -and to visit friends about 30%...Now I can honestly say I give it my best shot to win, but visiting and seeing pals and old friends has risen well above the 50/50 mark...Oh yeah..Did I say, remember to have fun.?? Brian Smith
Last edited by BrianSmith; Aug 19, 2004 at 10:21 AM.
Aug 19, 2004, 12:53 PM
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Who’s This Timer Person?

Who’s This Timer Person?

What are the basic duties of a timer:

The most basic duties of your timer are: Start the stopwatch as soon as the plane comes off of the launch line. Stop the stopwatch as soon as your plane touches the ground. (Technicalities covered later in this post) The official timer’s job is to time your flight, and report it on a scorecard. That said, if you get a timer, who only does this and no more, go look for someone else.

But what about all that other stuff?

Here are what I consider the duties of a good Timer.
  • Start & stop the stopwatch.
  • Before you launch, give you commentary on who’s in lift, and where they are.
  • Report signs of lift, wind changes, etc.
  • As soon as the launch is complete, the timer should guide the pilot to walk away from the launch area to a place where he can stand and fly. If you are new to contests, be prepared for a timer to grab your arm, belt buckle, or shirt sleeve and gently guide you across the field.
  • During the flight, tell the pilot of others going up (that the plane can reach).
  • Provide commentary on the pilot’s own flying, if it’s wanted. For example: “your plane is climbing better on the left side of the circle”, or “smooth it out a little”. Note: I am not saying the timer should be critical; just offer gentle critique of minute-by-minute action. But only, if this commentary is actually desired by the pilot. More skilled pilots don’t want this kind of talk.
  • I always try to talk in a calm and reassuring voice. If someone crashes, don’t upset the pilot.
  • Keep an eye on the landing zone. If someone’s plane zooms beyond the landing zone, I take it as my duty to get in front of the pilot and protect him from a collision, if necessary. Remember, the timer is not flying and should be aware of what’s going on on the ground.
  • When about 2-3 minutes remain in the flight (or the plane is getting low), walk the pilot towards a landing zone. There will be several.
  • If there are others in the landing zone (and there will be), the timer should work it out with other timers, who is going to land where and when. Usually a 1-minute separation is required in landing times for one pilot to land, measure the landing, and get out.
  • As the landing time approaches, the timer should straighten out the landing tape, and report to the pilot any last minute changes in the wind direction, etc.
  • Provide a countdown, exactly as the pilot wants it.

I know that’s a lot. As you can see, the timer has plenty to do and think about.

Ideally a timer should know you, your abilities, and limitations. Fred Sage covers this better than I can in his in-depth article When to Launch


You must realize that personality plays a big part in selecting a timer. In a pinch, most anyone will do. If you’re a beginner, any pilot is fine. If possible, always try to get a timer who’s a better pilot than you. Of course, if everyone followed this line of thinking, that ace pilot would not want you as his timer.

If you are the pilot, you must communicate with your timer a few minutes before the flight on what you want. Specifically:
  • How do you want to hear the watch countdown? Count-up, count-down, how often? For example: “I want a count up time (just read the clock), starting in the last 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, give me the time every 15 seconds. In the last minute, give me the time every 5 seconds”. Whatever the pilot wants, he should let the timer know before the launch.
  • Commentary on flight (see above). Some pilots want it. Some don’t. Some timers just don’t give any. Some talk too much. The pilot and timer need to work that out.

Note, if you do not have a consistent landing pattern, then hearing the time every 5 seconds is probably going to frazzle your nerves more than help. If you are new at contests, just try to land within 20-30 seconds of the specified time.


There are a few technicalities in the AMA rules that you should be aware of, regarding timers. Rules. What rules? Yes, there are rules, and they are worth reading. AMA Sailplane Rules

Related to timing, some rules of note.
  1. The clock should stop when the model touches the ground; not after a 2 second slide in the grass. (section 10.2.2b)
  2. All times should be rounded to the nearest second. (section 10.2.2b) Note: do whatever the CD specifies during the pilots meeting.
  3. The official timer is not supposed to give out the time during the last 10 seconds of flight (section (section 10.2.2b). Note: This rule is very often ignored.

Count up or down?

One important thing to think about. Do you want count up (5, 10, 15, 20) in the last minute, or count down (55, 50, 45, 40)? If you practice with a Talking Timer, then you probably want count down. But some people do not have countdown stopwatches, and are unable to “translate” on the fly. They have to read 9:05 and say “55”. Then read 9:10, and say “50”. It can be confusing for the timer, if he’s not used to it. If you are the pilot, be prepared for anything. At a nearby club, they have all standardized on “count-up, just read the clock”. Once the pilot has learned that, anyone can time for him.


My personal philosophy when I am the timer. I try to be a coach, assistant, guide, tactician, and gopher. Anything the pilot needs; I try to take care of. As a timer, I consider myself a consultant. The pilot is in control, and I try to be his assistant, and make as many things as possible smooth for him. Do what the pilot cannot do himself. Be his eyes looking around the field, while he is flying.

I give advice, but do not get the least bit angry if it is ignored. Some timers get insistent if they tell you there is lift over so and so, and you don’t go. Not me. The pilot might like the weak lift he’s in, and not want to go where you told him a boomer exists. That’s fine. It’s his flight, not mine. I try to not tell the pilot what to do, but to give him information and advice that are useful. He has to decide what to do with it.

Be pretty sure of the advice you give. It’s a sinking feeling (no pun intended) when I tell a pilot to go somewhere. He follows my advice and finds nothing but sink. Uggh.

I also try to only give information to the pilot that he can actually use. If the pilot is struggling to make his time and is at 100’ of altitude, I do not tell him of the 5 guys climbing in lift at 1500’ altitude on the opposite side of the field. He cannot reach them, so no sense bothering him with that. If the pilot is looking for lift and someone else in his area or at lower altitude has found some, I will report that.

For a 10-minute flight, I don’t even bother reporting the time to the pilot until he’s flown at least 5 minutes. What’s the use? If he’s high, it’s useless to tell him there are 8 minutes left. If he’s scratching for lift at 100’, he does not need that added pressure, either. Of course, if the pilot requests time, then let him know.
Last edited by JonStone; Aug 19, 2004 at 10:01 PM.
Aug 19, 2004, 11:26 PM
Take off, eh? Hoser...
Just a story I thought I would share with you guys. It has a little lesson at the end.

I learned to fly with gliders. I didn't touch a powered plane until I had flown on my own for sometime. I never flew competitively but I just loved to fly as long as the lift would let me.

Years after I started flying glow my glider flying dwindled to very little time over the season. Then the powered club I was a member at decided they were going to have a glider TD contest. I entered and had a terrible start. After I launched from the highstart I found lift, gained some altitude and things were going well. Then I started a right turn and was unable to bring it out of the turn. The turn steepened into a spiral dive. The other members saw this and expressed some concern, when I told them I could not recover one of the more experienced pilots came over and tried to recover the plane himself. The plane would respond to the elevator but not the rudder. He was unsuccesful so he gave the transmitter back to me. I then tried playing with the elevator and noticed that if I held full up the plane would accelerate and the dive would steepen even more. If I held in down elevator I could slow the plane down and produce a shallower dive so thats what I did till the plane hit the ground. I walked over and the nose from the leading edge bulkhead forward had parted company with the plane. I took it back to my vehicle and began repairs. I also was able to correct the problem causing the right hand turn, a pushrod was binding and caused the rudder to remain in the right deflection position. I was able to get it back to flying condition and relaunch the plane after inspection. Immediately after launch I noticed the plane was not flying as it had before the crash. I was able to trim the model to get it to fly well and went on to have the longest flight of the day. I ended up winning my first contest with that flight.

The reason for the flight performance change after the crash was that I had removed all of the balancing nose weight and the plane was some what tail heavy. When I landed the elevator trim was in the full down position.

The lesson I mentioned was no matter how bad your flying is on the first flight of the day it is still possible to pull one out of a hat and turn your day around.

Last edited by The orig. Noin; Aug 19, 2004 at 11:30 PM.
Aug 20, 2004, 01:08 AM
AustinTatious's Avatar
I have not been flying contest for long.. However I have been fortunate enough to watch and fly with some really Great pilots.

Lessons I have learned are:

1: ALWAYS come off the launch with as much energy as possible.

2. If you arent in lift, you are in dead air or sink. Do not try to Keep the glider up at this time.. lowere the nose and get out of it as quickly as possible.

3. Go where the Birds are.. If they are going up, your plane will go up.

4. If other planes are doing poorly.. stay away from them!

I prefer to go upwind until I hit some good lift then work it up and drift downwind with it until It is specked out.. jsut a Dot.. If you still need more time after this.. head back upwind.. if you judged it right you should be able to get back to launch area at launch altitude, "rinse repeat"

Do not:

Get forced into flying for any other reason than the time window ( and not by that if at all possible)

Unless there is VERY little average wind ( not usually here in TX) or you know for sure there is MASSIVE lift, do not head downwind off the launch.

bypass the Zoom on launch (if your glider can take it)

Give up if you are low ( i have had many unbelievable saves from down low.. I have also seen some really creepy low level stuff happen)

Forget to talk to your timer and clear up what you want him to do while you are flying

Thats about all the usless advice I can give... The only other thing is to Be familiar with your plane and be able to recognise lift when the plane flys thru it.

Aug 20, 2004, 10:19 AM
Registered User

A Beginners View ….

I wish this thread would have been here 3 weeks ago. It would have prevented a lot of anxiety when I decided to participate in my first contest. I’m an absolute beginner in this hobby. I used to fly full size gliders and single engine airplanes but let me tell you, flying R/C is a lot harder (Proof: I never crashed in a full size plane). Anyway, while I was building my first plane from a kit early this year, a GP Spirit, I started to learn the basics of R/C flying with some smaller electric models (Airobird, Graupner Tipsy).

There is a great Glider Club here in the area (the Soaring League of North Texas ) and I went to one of their contest meetings at Southfork Ranch where I met some very nice people who helped me with my new plane, got it properly balanced and even pulled it up with the winch. What a thrill, my bird actually flew! I was handed the transmitter and nervously guided my Spirit back to earth where they talked me through the landing (I can still hear them: Left … Left! … Left!!!!!). Also, with the help of the same nice people I learned to use the High-Start and was then able to fly and practice with my plane at the local park.

That’s when I decided I’d like to try to fly in the next contest they had in August, again at Southfork Ranch (can’t be that hard, right?). I figured the best way to learn it is to do it, however, I really had no idea what to expect. I called the CD for this event and he explained a few things to me which gave me some idea, but also raised my anxiety level a bit. When I got to the field on Sunday, August 8, I met the CD and he hooked me up with Bobby, a very nice gentleman to show me the ropes and be my timer, launch my plane for me, etc. This worked out great. Bobby is probably the calmest person I’ve ever met which was just perfect. He explained the tasks of the timer and had me time him for his first flight. This gave me an opportunity to observe and learn what was expected of me.

Now it was time for my first flight. At this point, surprisingly enough, I wasn’t nervous anymore. Bobby was going to paddle my plane up (I was controlling it though) and all I had to do was fly it around for a little bit and land it somewhere close to a rope on the ground. As it was mentioned in this thread, it comes down to expectation. This was an open contest. My 2M Spirit stuck out like a sore thumb sitting on the grass between all those sleek, full house gliders with their long, aerodynamic wings. So, expectations where low … but not that low: I couldn’t make the time in any of the 5 rounds. I didn’t get closer than 200 feet to the landing rope. I ended dead last. But, I had a blast, met a lot of nice people and know that this hobby will keep me interested for a very long time because there is a lot to learn and there are many challenges ahead.

Thanks to all the people who helped me that day and thanks to everybody contributing to this wonderful thread. It is more helpful to us beginners than you can imagine and is very much appreciated. I’m looking forward to the next contest to put some of the things I learned here to use.

Regards, Dietmar.
Aug 20, 2004, 11:08 PM
Registered User
nuevo's Avatar

Interrogation of a Sport Soarer

Here’s story I read a year or so ago, from my friend Gordy Stahl, a columnist for RC Soaring Digest magazine. All of the issues from the last few years can be downloaded and read at the link below.

This article is courtesy of RC Soaring Digest magazine.


Don’t pick apart the details. You’ll miss the big picture. This story makes a strong point with me. Hopefully it will encourage you too.

Read on, laugh and learn!

Interrogation of a Sport Soarer

(An imaginary story from the daydreams of a soaring enthusiast!)

I flew a contest in St. Louis and got into a discussion with the club president about why lots of guys show up if they call a ‘fun soar’ day, but not many show up for contests.

I knew why, but heck it’s just my opinion, so I asked him who would be a representative ‘sport soarer’ in the club. He told me and I got the guy’s address. I proceeded to head over to the guy’s house only to find him cutting the grass. I snuck up and bopped him with my Super Stand pole, then stuffed him in my truck.

I got to the motel. I tied him to a chair with wing tape, then took off his shirt and applied the new really aggressive hinge tape, that I got from Don Richmond at Visalia, all over his hairy chest and back.

I brought him back to reality by spritzing some CA Kicker under his nose and began my interrogation (for an RCSD article of course), asking the same question.


And, I wasn’t too pleased with his response.

“I’m not interested in competitions...”

Yep, I could see it was going to be a long night before I’d make it thru the usual canned ‘reasons’.

RIPPPP! I pulled off a piece of tape.

“YEOW!!!!” He exclaimed.

“It’s too much stress!” RIPPPP!

“No full size plane sticks its nose in the ground for a landing.” RIPPPP!

“I don’t need to prove anything.” RIPPPP!

“It's not ‘fun’!” RIPPPP!

“Cuz I don’t own a stop watch!!!!” RIPPPP!

I finally ran out of hinge tape, and I considered clipping pieces of carbon pushrod to use under his finger nails. I was close to him finally fessing up with the truth... It was getting late and I had an 8:30 pilots meeting the next day so it was time to get serious, and pull out all the stops. Yep, the one thing that will break any sailplaner... I reached for his wallet...

“Okay, Okay!!!! I’ll tell you why us sport soarers don’t come to contests. It’s because we aren’t PREPARED! We never practice. Heck, we aren’t sure how to practice! When we come to the field, we don’t have a talking timer to count down specific amount of minutes of flight time, and we never have a target to land at. SO, when contest day comes up we aren’t comfortable suddenly being expected to control the sailplane on purpose! We just aren’t prepared and that makes us feel like we aren’t welcome. We love to fly and want to fly every opportunity. We want to join in the fun those contest guys seem to have! We just haven’t practiced and don’t have the confidence to feel we belong.”

Now that I had him talking, I couldn’t get him to shut up...

“When I turned 16, there were 8 of us in our town who went down to get our drivers licenses. When we got there, there was some government guys there who separated us into two groups. I was in the ‘Sport Drivers’ group of four, the other group was called the ‘Elitists’.”

“Those poor Elitists really got screwed! Us Sport Drivers were taken to a 100 acre driving area that had no obstructions and was surrounded by thick soft rubber bumpers. The instructor assigned us each a car, showed us how to start it and make it go, but that was it. He may have mentioned something about a ‘brake’, but there really was no need. Mostly all we had to do was to stay away from each other. IT was a ball, we could drive anywhere, any way, fast or slow. On weekends we’d go out and drive around for hours on end; we’d do circles and figure 8’s, and pretty much just drive around. It was great, and we did it for about 2 years. Near the end it got kind of boring.” “The Elitists had it really bad. They had to go to classes, and were forced to place their hands on certain spots on the steering wheel. Even had to shift their hands in a certain way when turning. They had to drive in skinny lanes, and could only drive one direction in certain lanes, too. And were restricted to specific speeds, as well. Uck! Seemed like a lot of work for nothing.”

”The instructors would make them do really hard boring stuff over and over and over. Things called U-turns, Y-turns, parallel parking. Then even made them back up with trailers hooked to their cars. As the 2 years went on, the Elitist group was made to do more and more boring and scary stuff like driving in rush hour traffic with lots of other cars packed in really close, and driving really fast on freeways. Or drive downtown and park in really tight spots. (We couldn’t figure out why they would bother with stuff like that, since mostly all we did to stop was just let the car coast till it stopped somewhere on the driving area. Sure, it was a hassle cuz it could be a long walk back to the entrance, but it sure was a lot easier than what those poor Elitists had to put up with. Imagine this! Their driving area had lots of weird obstacles called stop signs and stop lights, and their instructors would make them practice making their cars stop with its front wheels on a thick white line, EVERY TIME. And if they missed it they would get penalty cards called ‘tickets’, which they had to pay fines for!”

”While we got bored with driving near the end of that 2 years, the Elitists were soooo brainwashed by the government men, that they couldn’t wait for the next driving class. They’d actually run to get there!”

“The abuse to the Elitist group didn’t stop there. Their instructors even had them doing math. They’d have to figure out how long it would take to get from one place to another, traveling at specific set speeds which only varied pending on signs posted along the way.”

“Anyway, near the end of those two years, us Sport Drivers pretty much hardly ever went to the driving area. Sure we had fun driving around with no rules, no requirements, and no need to fine tune our control, at least for a while.”

“Little did we realize the atrocity of the diabolical evil of this government experiment. But that wasn’t to be revealed till just before Senior Prom...”

“This gorgeous girl who I had been in love with since grad school came up to me and asked me if I would take her to the prom. She said she planned on having all the fun that was the stuff of dreams! However, she’d only go with me IF I agreed to drive her.”

“How could I? I mean, I had never had to keep my car in a lane, or at a specific speed, and what would happen if I had to do one of those parallel park things and ended up smashing into something? I couldn’t bear the pressure and possible embarrassment. I just wasn’t prepared!”

“I told her, thanks for offering, but I was only a ‘sport driver – I just do it for ‘fun’. I couldn’t admit that I wasn’t prepared...”

“She ended up marrying one of the Elitist Drivers.”
Last edited by nuevo; Jun 19, 2008 at 12:51 PM. Reason: fixed web links
Aug 21, 2004, 01:05 PM
Registered User
redietz's Avatar
Originally Posted by JonStone
Don’t pick apart the details. You’ll miss the big picture. This story makes a strong point with me. Hopefully it will encourage you too.
Pick apart the details? There's so much wrong with that forced analogy, you don't need to go into the details.

I fly in TD competitions. I enjoy it. Were that not the case, and I were thinking about doing so, that posting would probably have put me off from ever doing so.

Let's substitute "scale contest" for "TD contest" (or power pattern contest, or whatever kind of competition you don't participate in.) You don't participate in that kind of competion because it's not your cup of tea. How would you like it to be told that the only reason you don't participate is because you're not prepared, and by implication you're not prepared because you're some kind of wimp. Would that encourage you to participate? It wouldn't me; I'd just think that people who do fly in those kind of competions are complete jerks. (I don't mean to be calling you a jerk; I know you posted with the best of intentions.)

It seems from some of the responses to this thread that some of its readers are only now getting into contest flying. Maybe it would be a better way of encouraging them to emphasize that it's fun; not that the reason they don't now is due to some lack of moral fiber on their part.

Some people don't fly in contest because they don't enjoy it. Why is that so hard to believe? Unlike the driver in the story, they're not going to lose out on a hot date because they only fly for fun. (In fact, they may be more likely to get one, because they "have a life.")

OTOH, if the point of the story was to convince me to go out and drive in bumper cars so that I can enjoy driving again, you just might have succeeded.


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